Colonial Affairs.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 4th August 1942.

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Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Stockton-on-Tees

The maximum period which has now been agreed to is for four months. Originally it was two months, but in order to do that, we had to get 20,000 in and out to get 2,000 or 3,000 working for a few months. Because of pressure on our transport and the state of our wagons, etc., we had to raise it to four months.

Now comes the question of whether this work is for private profit or for Government profit. I do not, alas, know these territories; I can only read about them and see photographs of them, and I try to imagine two of these people talking about what is going on. One says to the other that he has to go to a Government colliery; it has been socialised and he likes the idea. The other says that he does not like that. He has to go to Amalgamated Tin, whereupon the first says he does not like that because it is a concern which is working for private profit. The other says "But there is 100 per cent. E.P.T.," and the first replies that of that there is 20 per cent. rebate, and so forth. But I cannot believe that that represents any reality. What really happens is that they are not interested in such things. If it did represent any reality at all, it would not represent any reality to them. Therefore I do not think it matters; what matters to us is: Have we done something wrong?

Who wants to get tin out of the mines? I do, and the Ministry of Supply do. If the companies were not patriotic people, the last thing in the world they would want to do would be to take tin out of the mines, but what are they doing? They are working the mines at the rate of 120 per cent., ruining the mines. We tell them to work, the best seams and to get the stuff out. They are injuring their own property, paying 100 per cent. E.P.T., and getting no additional profit whatever. It is our difficulty, or it would be if they were not patriotic people, to overcome their sense of duty to their shareholders, because we are in fact injuring them and not benefiting them at all. Under the agreement we have made it does not make the slightest difference to their profit how much tin is taken out, because the agreement is that the Ministry of Supply pays them the cost of working, plus the profit of 1939 or the average profit of the three years before 1939. That is a fixed profit payment, and they are in fact the agents of the Government. Therefore, whether it is a matter of satisfaction to ourselves to feel that we are working on a nationally-controlled agreement, because the companies are agents of the Government, or whether it is a matter of satisfaction to the Africans, you may say that in fact they are working on Government account for the war effort.

I want to make it absolutely clear, beyond any shadow of doubt, that my Noble Friend and I dislike forced labour. The whole of this House dislikes it, and the whole history of Africa has been one of gradually getting away from it. It is an old tradition and has been in existence for a long time, and there are certain services for which compulsory labour might be regarded, in more primitive times, as reasonable. When the chief called upon his men they came out and built a road, or did some act of public service in much the same way as we pay our taxes. But we do not like it; we regret it, and we shall not keep it on a moment longer than is necessary. We are using it as sparingly as we can. In Kenya the settlers would not ask for it; the Government forced it upon them. We could not afford to ask the settlers to grow crops and then let the crops lie rotting upon the ground. There are some crops which are exotic crops, wheat in particular, which the natives do not know how to grow, and which must therefore be grown by the settlers. But it is a mistake to imagine that in Kenya the settlers asked for it. The sisal growers have not asked for it, and in Northern Rhodesia the mine owners have not asked for it. We are introducing every possible safeguard we can, and if anybody can think of any more safeguards, I should be most happy to see whether we could introduce them, as we did to meet the wishes of the Members of the House after the Kenya Debate.

There are many other subjects with which I must deal before I wind up, and I must apologise to hon. Members if I Cannot deal with all their points. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley made, not exactly an accusation, but an innuendo that there was a statement going around that in some way or other the Colonial Office had got mixed up with monopolies in West Africa and was increasing the powers of monopoly traders.